Friday, April 9, 2010

What's up with "The Experts"?

Florida is about to embark on yet another grand experiment with its state's education system. It's commonly known as Senate Bill 6 and also referred to as the "Teacher Tenure Bill".

It has passed both the Florida State Senate and State House of Representatives. Now it has been passed to the governor for his signature or veto.

I'm really shocked and disappointed that the debate surrounding this legislation has not been covered very much by the national news media. Of course I realize the big story this week has been Tiger Woods return to the Masters Golf Tournament, and we all know that celebrity news is always more newsworthy than education issues.

In a nutshell, this legislation cannot be explained in a nutshell. Supposedly it installs a merit pay system for teachers, but the "merit" pay will be based on standardized test scores as the predominant measure of a teacher's "effectiveness". But it also eliminates any kind of tenure or due process for new teachers and calls for the termination of the teaching certificate of a teacher that is deemed ineffective (based on standardized test scores) in 4 of the preceding 5 years.

Furthermore, it ignores the fact that teachers only get better as they become more experienced; the bill places them on annual contracts and prohibits recognition for years of service, advanced degrees or becoming nationally board certified.

In addition, school districts will be required to create standardized tests for courses that do not currently have them. The creation of these new tests alone will cost the Dade County School District millions of dollars for example. To add insult to injury, these costs must be absorbed by the local school districts without any new funding support from the state.

Of course educators in Florida were excluded from any discussion in the drafting of this legislation. But then why should they have been included? The federal government does not really seek the input of experienced educators who work daily "in the trenches" of our nation's classrooms.

Instead we have "experts" like Eric Hanushek at "Education Next" who maintains that "Florida legislators recognize that teacher quality is central to student outcomes. They also recognize that neither teacher experience nor graduate degrees bear any consistent relationship to student achievement. This legislation is simply putting policy where the evidence is."

Oops! It seems that Mr. Hanushek missed the report from researchers at the University of North Carolina that discovered "rookie teachers are much less effective than their more experienced colleagues". The same report goes on to say:

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Food Fights on the Internet....

Ok... so it's been over a month since I last updated this blog.  Since my last post I've gotten quite addicted to posting to "reader comment forums" on various Internet news web sites.  So bad is my addiction, I'm seriously considering entering a 12 step rehab program.

Often times, I feel like the participation in these forums amounts to a Internet "Food Fight".  Regardless, I thought I'd share parts of the discussion from my latest foray.

It all began from reading a news story on the "Livingston" news web site.  The story was regarding the contract negotiations in a school district in my county.  Keep in mind I didn't really have a dog in that fight as my son is not a student in that district and I am not a teacher in that district either.  However, being a teacher, I feel a duty to defend my fellow educators whenever I feel they are being unfairly attacked.

It all started when I read a couple of  simplistic solutions including:

Fire all the union teachers and hire in new happy to be employed teachers at 45k per year not the average 64k per year salary union teachers are making now. This would also allow for schools to hire more teachers and assistants making smaller class sizes. Problem solved. (From WOWYOUTHINK)
I for one see no reason that the younger teachers should not be used as the primary and the prima donnas be given walking papers.(From julll)
To which I replied:
Sorry, but your post is another example of an uneducated, simplistic "solution".

Your "solution" mirrors the thinking of politicians and so-called experts that assumes students are mere widgets on a educational assembly line and teachers are interchangable robots.

And if I may refer back to the orginal proposal of firing the 64k "union" teachers and replacing them with 45K "new happy to be employed" teachers, why not go a step further? Why not then replace the 45K "happy" teachers with 40K "super happy" teachers? But don't stop there... let's replace those 40K teachers with 30K teachers.

After all... anyone can teach since experience and creditials mean nothing, right?

I'm still eager to hear the professions and salaries of people commenting about teachers here so I can make similar arguments and recommendations about their jobs.
That in turn garnered this response from another reader: (steeplechase1)
Your "solution" mirrors the thinking of politicians and so-called experts that assumes ... teachers are interchangable robots.
The union demands that every teacher be treated exactly the same regardless of specialty, ability or level of enthusiasm. Hence 'interchangeable' - blame the union for that.

Michigan public schools are not doing a good job compared to other states/countries, and a big part of that has to do with how they manage talent. (unions, tenure etc.)

They overpay for liberal arts and elementary teachers and then can't afford good or even average science, business or math teachers, because those skills are in high demand and cost more. Businesses pay more for certain skills and less for others. Schools should be doing the same thing.

Finally - you don't need to be a watchmaker to tell the time. Time's nearly up on this broken business model. Schools have to change, or Darwin will take over.
 Alright! Game on! So my reply to "steeplechase1" required a bit of pondering and some research but I eventually composed the following response:

Thanks for a civil reply containing logical points that have some merit.

However, (as you might predict) I take issue with your logic.

First,  I didn’t offer a solution.  I was challenging the idea of firing all the veteran teachers and replacing them with cheaper teachers as overly simplistic.

Secondly, “the union” did not create the system that treats every teacher the same regardless of their specialty, ability, etc.  This system was in place long before there were teacher unions.

Teacher unions understandably are leery of merit pay schemes after witnessing the failure for funding in such examples as the Tennessee Teacher Career Ladder and now the elimination of merit pay in many states for National Board Certified Teachers.  Those are two merit programs that did have support of teacher organizations.

However, the carrot of merit pay is one of the first to be cut during times of tight budgets.  And now the new idea of determining teacher pay with President Obama’s Race To The Top Scheme through “value
added testing” has too many flaws to mention here.

Next, I challenge your notion that Michigan Public schools are not doing a good job compared to other states.  If you examine the average ACT scores by states that require all high school juniors to take the test, Michigan ranked 2nd in the nation in 2009 and was within 0.7 points of the top state, Colorado.  In addition, if you examine the National Assessment of Educational Progress, (which is the closest thing we currently have to a national test) you will see that Michigan’s test scores are not significantly different than the average national score.

Furthermore, you really can’t make a fair comparison of an elementary teacher to a secondary math or science teacher as elementary teachers set the foundations for future learning.  I realize there are reports in the mainstream media regarding a “shortage” of math and science teachers.

However, I challenge that “shortage” notion.  If you examine the shortage patterns, they mainly exist in poor rural and problematic urban schools.  Schools that provide adequate teacher salaries, attractive facilities and minimum support systems have little trouble attracting applicants for math and science vacancies.  

What schools do have trouble with regarding math and science teachers is retaining them beyond their second or third year.  This is almost always due to a lack of classroom support for those teachers, not the lack of pay.

Finally, I take issue with the constant comparison of schools to business.  Schools are unique institutions and cannot be compared to other “business models”.  Politicians and experts keep trying to do that and they keep failing.

We do agree on one thing.  Schools do need to change. But until the policy makers really give experienced, classroom teachers that work in the trenches on a daily basis a substantial say in school policies, our society is doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes.
 Like I said... I think I need a 12 step rehab program.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Linking college academics to careers? Oh my! What a novel idea!

A recent article in the Washington Post reported on the idea that many college undergraduates are uncertain about academic disciplines.

The article also states:

As a result, many students leave school without fully tapping their interests and aptitudes and without appreciating how their academic knowledge is connected to their future careers...
What?  People are going to college without really knowing what they want to do when they get out?

Perhaps if students could make time in their high school schedule to pursue a few Career and Technical Education courses they might gain a better insight to their interests and aptitudes before they even begin college.

However a number of factors including budget cuts and a push by many states to increase "core curriculum" requirements are making it difficult for many secondary schools to continue offering a good variety of CTE courses.

As a result, I believe the Washington Post article illustrates how this is really a disservice to our students.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The High School Courses Students Need For College???

In today's Washington Post, college admissions consultant Bruce Vinik, president of Vinik Educational Placement Services, writes about "The High School Courses Students Need For College".

In his article, Mr. Vinik states:

"Outside of grades, nothing is more important in college admissions than the classes kids take in high school."

"Let’s start with the basics. Colleges expect students to take at least five core academic subjects every year of high school -- English, social studies, science, math and foreign language.

"Beyond the basics, most colleges expect students to challenge themselves in the classroom by doing advanced course work when it is available in their schools."

"For ninth and tenth graders, this typically means taking honors courses or the occasional Advanced Placement (AP) course; for eleventh and twelfth graders, this means AP or International Baccalaureate (IB) classes."
Personally, I think that perhaps college admissions officers should reevaluate their admissions criteria given that less than 50% of students who start college ever graduate.

Why doesn't anyone ever challenge the notion of the so-called "core curriculum" and how those courses mostly operate in a vacuum?

The core curriculum concept was developed in 1893 by a "Committee of Ten". Shouldn't we perhaps at least examine some new educational possibilities now that it is the year 2010?

I have been teaching high school computer-aided-design (CAD) classes for over 20 years. Almost every one of my students that have gone on to become successful engineers and architects who I remain in contact with have credited my courses as some of the most valuable classes they took in high school or college.

Classes such a CAD or other technical courses have the potential to be an excellent vehicle for delivering important concepts taught in "core" classes while making those concepts relative to "real life" ideas that many students can relate to.

Furthermore, I have been told that many college admissions guidelines discard grades earned in classes like CAD and only consider the "core" classes.

I just believe that we are doing a disservice to many of our intelligent students who have much potential by trying to always force them into "cookie-cutter" curriculum ideas especially when it come to college admission guidelines.

Might this be one of the reasons for the current college dropout rate?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Pat Tillman Award?

Yesterday my favorite player in the National Football League, Peyton Manning, won his record-setting fourth "Most Valuable Player" title, an award presented by the Associated Press.

Peyton is my favorite NFL player for a number of reasons.  Mainly because he hails from my Alma Mater, The University of Tennessee, and is a really terrific quarterback that is amazing to watch in action.

But also he is a classy individual, a great role model, and a humble person. Furthermore he has been a great ambassador for my Alma Mater at a time when so many other athletes over the years have tarnished the reputation of the university by their off-field antics.

While I honor Peyton Manning as a player and a person, there is one other person who once played professional football that has garnered my utmost respect.  That player is a man named Pat Tillman.

Pat Tillman walked away from a $3.6 million contract as a safety with the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army after the September. 11 attacks.  He enlisted in the Army in May, 2002 and completed training to become an Army Ranger.

He served numerous tours with the Army, including the initial invasion of Iraq, "Operation Iraqi Freedom".  He was later deployed to Afghanistan as part of "Operation Enduring Freedom".

Pat Tillman was killed in action while on a mission in southeastern Afghanistan on April 22, 2004.

So now whenever I heard the phrase "NFL's Most Valuable Player" I cannot seem to separate the work of a mere football player from the actions of man who walked away from the game to give the ultimate sacrifice to our county.

Currently, the Associated Press has no name for their trophy awarded to the most valuable player in the NFL.

I think it is now time to name this award "The Pat Tillman Trophy".